Thoughts from the Parents of a Study Abroad Alumna

Jan 23, 2017 1:30:00 PM / by Julie Ritz

An Interview with Jerry & Nanette Whittington

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Meet Jerry and Nanette Whittington, parents of Ashley Whittington a biology / pre-chiropractic major from D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York, who studied abroad in Sydney during summer 2016. Below, they share their initial thoughts when Ashley brought up the topic of studying abroad, some of their concerns as parents and a few of the ways they've noticed that Ashley has changed and matured since her experience in Australia.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourselves.
JERRY WHITTINGTON: Being the best dad in the world, I was born in Buffalo. I Lived in West Falls, NY for over 20 years and landed in the Town Of Sardinia, NY for the remainder. I work for the Department of Homeland Security in the Emergency Management Field. I also work part time for the East Aurora Police Department as a 9-1-1 Dispatcher. In addition, I serve as the Emergency Manager in the Town of Sardinia. My hobbies include caring for my farm and horses, and firefighting, which I have done for over 20 years.
NANETTE WHITTINGTON: I grew up in West Seneca, NY. Having some college experience, I have worked in the medical and office fields my whole life. I am currently an office manager for a design firm. Some of my hobbies & interests are my family, scrapbooking/crafts, traveling and spending time at home.

CW: As parents, what were some of the initial thoughts you had when your daughter Ashley first mentioned studying abroad in Sydney?
JW: Based on my career path, I think the biggest issue I was concerned with was Ashley's safety and security while abroad.
NW: I was nervous to have her travel across the world alone, but thought it would be a great experience for her. I have no regrets letting her have this experience!

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CW: How much has travel abroad been a part of your own life in the past? In what ways (if any) do you feel like your own personal experience with travel (whether you've traveled a lot or not at all) played a role in how you reacted to Ashley's desire to study abroad?
JW: I have never traveled abroad and I have no intentions of doing so. Based on my career and unstable crime that I am briefed on frequently, I feel best staying in this country. With that being said, there are also concerns traveling within the US, but I just feel more comfortable staying here.
NW: I have never really traveled abroad, but we did encourage family vacations at a younger age. I came from a family that really did not have the opportunity to vacation together, so I felt that these vacations would leave lasting memories with our children. I know Ashley looked forward to our family vacations yearly, so I feel they were a big influence on her desire to travel to Sydney. I was excited for her to create some of her own memories as it was the chance of a lifetime.

CW: What changes have you noticed in Ashley since she left for Sydney and returned home again? Are these positive or negative? Can you share some specific examples? 
JW: I haven't seen any big changes just yet, but I believe she is more mature in decisions she makes about herself, her friends, and family. I am very proud of Ashley and so glad to call her my daughter.
NW: The changes in Ashley are definitely positive. While she was across the world, she had to act like an adult. It was not as easy to contact us every time she needed something, so she had no choice but to figure it out on her own. She did a great job with everything.

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CW: What were some of your biggest concerns when Ashley left for Sydney and how did the reality compare? 
JW: Once again, my biggest concerns were relative to her safety and security. A huge relief came over me once I had her back in the US at the Buffalo Airport. I was there to ensure my concerns would cease.
NW: My biggest concern was really her traveling alone. I knew she would be fine, but the flights to and from were probably where I was most concerned. Just making sure she made it safely to each destination was a huge worry. I knew once she was there, she would make lasting friendships and have people to lean on.  

CW: Is there anything you wish you would have known earlier - either while you were making the decision to support Ashley's desire to study abroad or while she was there - that would have made things easier for you as parents? 
JW: I was quite disappointed that during the parent orientation, there wasn't more information and a distribution of safety plans that parents could view and go over. I was the only parent that seemed concerned about that, so maybe I am just a crazy overly-concerned Daddy based on my job.  
NW: I feel that most everything was addressed in the meetings prior to leaving. The most helpful part was having the past students who went on the program there so we were able to ask them questions. You can do all the guess work you want, but having someone there that experienced everything would be was the most reassuring aspect. Ashley's father did have concerns over the emergency plan, which was not shared with him. Because he works for Homeland Security he had valid questions that he could not get answered, which I thought was unfortunate.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Please scroll to the bottom of this interview for comments on student safety abroad from CAPA's pre-departure team).

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CW: Do you think Ashley's international experience will benefit her professionally in the future? If so, how so?
JW: Yes, I really believe it will enhance her abilities and aid her in making life decisions or facing issues that are brought forth as she continues to grow. Being abroad gave her so many opportunities to enhance her skills and learning capabilities. I have no doubts that Ashley learned many new things and I truly believe she is a better person because of this experience.
NW: I do feel that Ashley's experience in Australia benefited her tremendously. The things she learned there are irreplaceable. It gave her an opportunity to decide how she wants her career to manifest. It also helped her decide that she wants to go further with her degree in medicine. It's something I couldn't be more proud of.

CW: What advice could you offer other parents whose children hope to study abroad during college?
JW: Be patient and know all of the ins and outs of where they will be going, things they should look out for, and trends in their area. Everyone traveling abroad should have the ability to experience the good aspects but also must be very vigilant, learning all of the issues within the region they'll be traveling to. Personal safety is paramount and ensuring that each student listens and pays attention to tips given to them will continue to make studying abroad a success.
NW: The advice that I have is to let your child experience this once in a lifetime chance. It is a great learning experience. CAPA is a very well-run program and I really had no worries that she would do well with them.

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CW: What are some of the challenges you've dealt with as a parent from the moment Ashley brought up the topic of study abroad through the time she's been in Sydney? What would you say to other parents who are trying to cope with the distance?
JW: Once again, my biggest concern was Ashley's safety and security while abroad. I encourage all parents to get involved and take some time to research all about where their child will be going. Know the area and all there is about keeping your child safe and secure. Know what they are doing and constantly communicate with them.
NW: One of the concerns I had was the financial aspect of the program. Once she was accepted, we set out a financial plan and followed it through till the end. We did fine with it. The distance was not an issue due to technology allowing you to communicate with your child often at no cost. My biggest fear was during the flight with no way to communicate, but there are many apps out there to use for communication purposes once she arrived.

CW: Why is studying abroad important?
JW: In today's society, studying abroad is very important to allow our children to experience the world, learn about new cultures and languages (if applicable) and meet other people (make new friends). Being alone and away from family allows them to see diversity and make them overcome challenges on their own. It's all a part of life, and so often today we see that children have grave difficulties making critical decisions during times of need. Studying abroad is just one avenue that allows students to face challenges head-on and learn from the decisions they make.
NW: Studying abroad is important because it allows your child to grow on their own and see what life is really about. The experience and memories gained can't be replaced any other way. It gives your child the opportunity to create their own memories. I am so glad we were able to allow her to participate in this.

Thanks, Whittington family!

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A FEW POINTS ON THE SAFETY OF CAPA STUDENTS ABROAD FROM THE PRE-DEPARTURE TEAM:

1. Students receive advising on health and safety abroad, from the point at which they are admitted to the program through our pre-departure advising site as well as their housing packet prior to departure, and upon arrival in the landing gear all students receive when checking into the accommodations, as well as during the full orientation the following day.

2. CAPA has developed a locator and emergency response plan for a multitude of scenarios to ensure that we are, first and foremost, serving as a resource to students in the event of a crisis, both small and large scale, and second to ensure that we are keeping our university partners apprised of updates, as well as sharing these updates publicly via our website. Because the locator plan shares personal staff information, we do not publicly share it, but it has been incorporated into our QUIP review by the Forum for assessment of best practices in preparedness.

3. We utilize many forms of technology and social media to track and respond to students in a crisis. We require active cell phones of all students for this purpose.

4. We work with a partner organization, Docleaf, on crisis management to ensure that our planning and procedures are reflective of best practices, and also to add a layer of focused expertise in responding to any crisis.

5. We recognize the important role that parents and loved ones play in the well being of students abroad and are developing new videos and graphics to help parents visualize the care provided to their students abroad. These will be live in the coming months.

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Topics: Interviews, Sydney, Australia, Parents